Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is another book that I read for my young adult novel writing class. It tells the story of Greg, a socially awkward and generally awkward kid who tries to coast through high school unnoticed and unseen alongside his one friend, Earl. Greg and Earl make bad movies and worse jokes together. Greg’s mother forces Greg to befriend Rachel, a girl with cancer, and after spending months with her, Greg…hasn’t changed. And then the book ends.

“Because here’s the thing:” Greg tells us in a note at the beginning of the book, “I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia. In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of this whole thing.” In any novel, and I think especially young adult novels, we except some sort of change in our protagonist at the end, some sort of moral. Andrews refuses to give this to us. At the beginning, Greg is selfish and at the end, Greg is selfish, though with more life experience under his belt.

In class, I couldn’t stop talking about how much I didn’t like Greg. I called him selfish a lot. I called him completely lacking self-awareness. My class was so frustrated because they loved the novel.

And I also loved the novel. It made me cry. It made me laugh to the point that I was worried I was going to wake up my roommates. Greg is an incredible character. But if he was a person I met in real life, I wouldn’t want to be his friend.

Greg is what I call a “grey character.” He’s not a “bad guy,” but he’s also not a “good guy.” He is real. He is human. He does really great things, like entertaining Rachel and being around her, but sometimes he does it for selfish reasons. He hurts people, but he doesn’t do it maliciously. And these are the imperfect, growing humans that we meet and that we are. In real life, we don’t always get answers to the hard questions. We don’t always get to know why we go through the sucky things that we go through. Sometimes there is not a moral. And Andrews shows us that.

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